Researchers at the Albany Medical Center in New York conducted the study by reviewing the medical records of 158 children under age 18, who were seen for frequent headaches between 2002 to 2011. The researchers compared the exam results of the children with headaches to the records of their previous eye exams and other relevant medical care. No significant correlation was found between headaches and the need for vision correction.
Although approximately 14% of the children reported that their headaches occurred while doing visual tasks, such as homework, and about 9% reported visual symptoms associated with their headaches, researchers found that the need for vision correction did not appear to be the primary cause or a significant factor.
Researchers noted that over time, headache improved in the majority (76.4%) of study participants, including those who received new vision correction prescriptions and those who did not. Additionally, children who received new prescriptions were not more likely to have their headaches improve.
“We hope our study will help reassure parents that, in most cases, their children’s headaches are not related to vision or eye problems, and that most headaches will clear up in time,” said Zachary Roth, MD, who led the research team. “The information should also be useful to family doctors and pediatricians in caring for children and parents who have this common health concern.”
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Chicago. The findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal and should be considered preliminary.
Shortly after the study was released, Jean-Pierre Lagacé, a doctor of optometry from Montreal, Quebec, raised concerns on his clinic’s blog, noting that the study did not include information on why the headaches resolved, and he suggested troubling possibilities for their improvement.
“We must understand that headaches are mostly caused by the use of near vision (reading, writing, video games, etc.), often there is an eye alignment problem or a focusing problem,” he wrote. “If the problem persists, the visual system will make significant concessions to solve the problem. Most of the time, as an adaptation to visual stress, we will see the child become myopic. Headaches do not go away without other visual problems appearing. But the authors did not take this into account.”
This contradictory information may leave parents and those who work with children uncertain of the best course of action where headaches are concerned. Arthur Elkind, MD, the president of NHF’s board of directors, noted that there have been some areas of disagreement between opticians and ophthalmologists regarding visual impairment, eye muscle issues and headaches, especially in the pediatric age group.
Overall, Dr. Elkind said, the study aligned with his own experience in the headache field.
“Physicians studying headache disorders in children have often noted resolution as the child ages,” he said. “The study’s findings correspond with my clinical impression, as well as the impressions of other physicians, that headache disorders often resolve over time in children.”